Conor Morris

Conor Morris

Yes, it’s true. After six action-packed years at The Athens NEWS, I am moving on to a new gig in a new city. It’s been a busy time for news in Athens County since 2014, with enough big-time stories to keep anybody busy.

To mention a few: Former Athens County Sheriff Pat Kelly goes to jail; bats invading the Ohio University president’s official residence and the shady business that followed; the county’s ongoing struggles with poverty and hunger; prominent professors at OU accused of sexual misconduct, including one being ousted; and, not so long ago, native Athens County son Joe Burrow winning the Heisman. Meanwhile, The NEWS was no stranger to change during that time. Longtime owners Bruce Mitchell and Guy Philips sold the paper in the fall of 2014, a few months after I arrived on the scene, and a year ago the paper went from twice-weekly to weekly. More broadly, the journalism industry continues to grapple with how to keep doing what it’s done for hundreds of years in America. The legacy print advertising-based revenue model has failed to keep up with the times (unless your name is The Washington Post or The New York Times).

That’s had local impacts. When I started at The NEWS in 2014, we had two reporters and one editor, a photographer/photo editor, a dedicated graphics staff, a special projects manager, and plenty of mainly OU-based freelancers at our disposal. Now, we just have the associate editor and editor positions, though we do share some support staff with The Messenger.

Even worse, now we have a major pandemic, which is hitting all newspapers, including small-town news outlets, very hard. Still, I know The NEWS and The Messenger and all of our regional papers will continue working incredibly hard to bring you the news, especially under the tenure of new Athens NEWS Editor Sydney Dawes and new Athens NEWS Associate Editor Ben Peters, one of the bright stars who graduated from the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism this spring. The NEWS is lucky to have them both.

If you want to continue supporting this critically important work, I encourage you to continue advertising with The NEWS and the other APG Media of Ohio newspapers in the region. Later this week, I’m heading off to my own adventure as a Report for America corps member with In Cleveland, I’ll be working with a new reporting collaborative to cover the impact the coronavirus is having on impoverished and marginalized groups of people. Feel free to follow me on twitter (@condormorris), and I welcome any tips about news (or great Cleveland restaurants to check out) to my email.

Looking to the future, I know Athens County will face difficult challenges. Athens is a strong community, and Athens County is filled with strong communities like it, from Nelsonville to Glouster to Coolville. I know people will persevere, but I still worry. Big problems have persisted here, even before the pandemic. Perpetrators of sexual assault are still rarely being held to account, despite some promising improvements by some in law enforcement. There is a profound lack of living-wage jobs for thousands of people in this county. Many of our smaller local governments lack the resources to address problems in their communities. And to make matters worse, some of our government agencies (I’m looking at you Hocking College) are flouting the public’s right to know, ignoring public records requests, or otherwise slow-walking them into oblivion. These are all issues that solid local journalism can help address, but not without your support. If you see something, say something, and, as I mentioned above, support your local papers.

Enough of that tough talk, though! This is a beautiful community and I’ve lived my best years here since I started at OU in 2010. So allow me to end this column on a positive note.

• To the local breweries and distillery, thank you for making world-class products. You’re kicking ass and putting Athens on the map.

• To O’Betty’s Red Hot! in Athens, thank you for the consistently awesome dogs and fries. We will miss your hard-working staff, too.

• To the local bartenders and service industry workers who have listened to me whine about local news while serving me brews or coffee: thank you. Special shout-out to the staff at The Union and Jackie O’s: y’all are amazing.

• To the elected officials and public officeholders who ARE open and honest with me about what you know and what you don’t know,.

• To the Athens County Humane Society, thank you for helping me foster and ultimately adopt Bobby, my little bobcat!

• To the OU faculty who make the university great – including at the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism who helped teach me – thank you. I am sorry to see so many talented professors receive non-renewal notices lately.

• To all the amazing people whom I’ve been privileged to call my friends: thank you. I promise I’ll come back to visit as often as I can.

• And finally, to long-time A-NEWS Editor Terry Smith: thank you for taking a chance on a young journalist fresh out of college, and for the 34 years you’ve given to this area. I won’t ever forget you or your mentorship.

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